Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: UPX airport train subsidized $52 per ride last year

The provincial government subsidized passengers on the troubled Union Pearson Express last year at a rate of $52.26 per ride.


June 30, 2016

Ben Spurr

The Toronto Star


Passengers enter a UPX train at Union Station.

Passengers enter a UPX train at Union Station. (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)


The provincial government subsidized passengers on the troubled Union Pearson Express last year at a rate of $52.26 per ride.


The astounding sum, which far exceeds the subsidy received by other Toronto-area public transit projects, was revealed in an annual report that came before the Metrolinx board Tuesday.


The regional transit agency, which has faced fierce criticism over the $456-million air rail link, did not explicitly publish the per-ride subsidy. But calculations based on ridership numbers and operating expenditures that the agency did make public reveal the extent to which the UPX’s costs exceeded its revenues in its first 10 months of operation.


“It demonstrates a complete lack of competent planning,” said Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), who in 2014 brought a motion to council asking Metrolinx to set the UPX fare at an “affordable” rate.


“To subsidize a boutique train focused on business travellers is a real slap in the face to Toronto residents who have been waiting far too long for transit dollars to come their way.”


The UPX launched June 6, 2015 and was designed to provide air travellers with a quick trip between Pearson airport and downtown’s Union Station. Its fare revenues were supposed eventually to cover its operating costs. But with the price of a ride set at $27.90 — $19 with a Presto card — the line struggled to attract riders and was often running mostly empty trains.


The newly released figures show that between its launch and the end of the fiscal year on March 31, the line had operating expenses of $63.2 million and revenues from fares and other sources of $23.9 million. The government subsidy was $39.3 million. Ridership was 751,500 over that period.


Asked about the per-ride subsidy Thursday, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins told the Star “we always expected the service to require a subsidy for the first few years. That has not changed.”


She noted that on March 9 the agency dramatically lowered UPX fares, to $9 with a Presto card and $12 without, which has led to a significant boost in ridership.


“Metrolinx continues to monitor ridership levels and the implication of the reduced fares on the per-rider subsidy,” Aikins said in an email. “Public transit in North America has traditionally required some level of operating subsidy beyond the fare box. We expect that UP Express will be the same.”


However, the UPX per-ride subsidy is much higher than is typical for a public transit system. According to the TTC, its passengers receive a per-ride subsidy of 90 cents, almost all of which comes from the city.


Jessica Bell of TTCriders, a transit advocacy group, said the province should be subsidizing trips for people who rely on public transit instead of riders on a “boutique service.”


“If the province truly cared about improving service today and truly cared about riders, which is a third of the city, they would prioritize funding the TTC,” she said.


“It shows that they don’t care, and they’re not prioritizing everyday transit riders.”

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